Think Wild! By Arnold Madison

Ted Alford had racked up a glorious A in Driver Education, but his father still wouldn’t allow him to solo in the family car. Enter the BLUE MONSTER….

Think Wild!

The Plot: 16 year old Long Island “townie” Ted Alford has two things on his mind Labor Day weekend: getting a car of his own and a getting a date with his glamorous classmate, Sheila Kern. So focused is he on these concerns that he walks right into a riot ignited by the drunken college students that have not yet cleared out from the summer. They organize with the gusto of graduates from a Communist training camp:

“You’ve got the maps we made of those targets and the strength. Don’t listen to anyone over thirty. They’re the enemy. Listen to your friends. The future citizens of America!” He  paused to bring out the next word with greater emphasis, dramatically waving his beer can, “Us!”

The laughing ovation was deafening. Fear gnawed at Ted’s insides. The effect of this unruly mob would be catastrophic. He glanced around for the police who would stop the horde. But there was no one except the five men at the far end of the street. The Rocky Cove Police Department consisted of seven men; two of them were on vacation. Rocky Cove had failed to anticipate rebellion. Rocky Cove was in trouble.

Ted desperately tries to make his way home as the rioters smash windows on Main Street, burn the town bandstand and tip over cars amidst extremely vague outcry about The Establishment and not trusting anyone over 30; while he last finds his family safe and sound, he soon gets word that some of his friends and classmates have been injured or stranded, despite the uprising having ended as quickly as it had started.

However, the impact lasts far into the school year, as Oscar Jenks, the editor of the town’s newspaper, founds the Committee Against Lessening Morality (C.A.L.M.) While the public face of C.A.L.M. consists of ambiguous platitudes against “permissiveness” in education, Jenks (a family friend) reveals that his real agenda is to get the Jews out of the town of Rocky Cove.

Ted is confused by the repulsion he personally feels towards Jenks and the fact that both his parents and Sheila and her family seem willing to go along with him; the tension intensifies when Jenks and C.A.L.M. focuses on teenaged “hot-rodders” just as Ted and his friends undertake to rebuild a wrecked 1958 Chevy.

Ted has finally found a sense of purpose in life as he works on “The Blue Monster”, the custom car that he sees as his ticket to independence and Sheila’s affections. But as the work progresses, his dealings with the adults of the town become more and more strained.

Madison takes pains to paint both sides as unsympathetic extremists: the college kids (“Some sweat shirts were emblazoned with the names of respectable Ivy League colleges”) are outsiders stirring up trouble; C.A.L.M. is equally disorganized, a vehicle to serve the individual bigotry of its members. When tensions inevitably boil over and the town’s “adults” riot, it is against the perceived threats of Jews, Communists, permissive parenting and teenagers in general.

While Madison effectively expresses Ted’s confusion with the world around him through a wild, Beat-influenced prose style…

A corner streetlight glowed like an undernourished orange that had been rejected by a fruit company.

…the plot never really goes anywhere: when the rioting is over with a second time, the residents of Rocky Cove return to nursing their secret prejudices and resentments as they always have. Like Ted’s Blue Monster, the story breaks down after barely getting started.

Sign It Was Written in 1968 Department: “Certain groups have undermined the schools. For years we were able to prevent these people from buying houses in this town…”

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3 Responses to Think Wild! By Arnold Madison

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am wildly playing catch up on reading your blog. It’s funny and fascinating.

  2. Pingback: New Release: Sticking It To The Man | Lost Classics of Teen Lit: 1939-1989

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